Sooo, all of our nightmares have been realized in that the Blazers are not only playing Memphis in the first round of the playoffs, but the Grizzlies owned us in every way possible in Game 1.
The good thing about nightmares? Once they’ve happened, you have to face up to them. (You don’t HAVE to, but really, it’s a good idea. Good for growth, development, resilience, et al.)
So how can Portland do this? Let’s look at some adjustments that the coaching staff might be considering:
Stop the bleeding at the Point
Portland needs to find answers for Mike Conley and Beno Udrih. Damian Lillard and Steve Blake had none. C.J. McCollum got a few possessions guarding Udrih, and seemed to forget that he was left-handed. Basically the two Memphis point men made the back-breaking plays which split the game wiiide open. We know what doesn’t work, which is half the battle; one reader in this week's mailbag suggested zone defense--how would you slow Memphis ballhandlers down?
Bring Robin Lopez off the bench
Or at the very least, play him mostly when Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph aren’t both in the game. As much as it pains one to point out, Lopez simply cannot match up with one or the other. Both Grizz bigs are too quick, can knock it down from the perimeter, and draw Lopez away from the paint, negating his effectiveness at rim protection. And frankly, RoLo hasn’t been enough of a presence offensively to make up for all this. Getting some length on Randolph to take away his jumper should be a priority – he was only 3 of 11 near the rim in Game 1, a pattern which holds true over the last couple seasons. There are a lot of options here, especially since cross-matching is a possibility: for example, Meyers Leonard did a pretty good job shadowing Jeff Green on a handful of possessions.
Bring C.J. McCollum off the bench
C.J. has been a revelation this season, but the conditions he needs to succeed offensively should be no surprise to anyone at this point—he needs volume to get rolling. And he simply won’t get the ball in his hands enough with both Lillard and Aldridge on the floor. Perhaps one day C.J. will be an efficient complimentary player, but at the moment, Portland might as well maximize his strengths by bringing him in as a focal point for the second unit.
Better ball movement / No Hero Ball
Force-feeding LaMarcus Aldridge or letting Lillard force up tough shots may fall under the umbrella of "traditional playoff basketball", but it is not Blazers basketball at its best. You don’t have to know that the two stars only netted 46 points off of a whopping 55 shot attempts to recognize this as true (the pair averaged 36.5 FGA this year). Both stars, and the rest of the team, are much better off looking for their shots within the rhythm of the offense. Aldridge surprisingly only took 4 of his 34 shots from deep midrange, which he often gets when team passing is clicking. Meanwhile, he shot only 20% on 20 attempts which came off the dribble. Of course, these are the guys you want to lean on heavily in the playoffs and at the end of games in particular, but they shouldn’t feel the need to shoulder the load on every possession, especially against a rugged and well-prepped veteran team like Memphis.
Just put up points!
Giving up 100 points in a playoff game is not a bad figure; but you’re not going to win many by scoring 86, and 39 in the first half, as the Blazers did Sunday. Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense. The Blazers could go with some firepower-heavy lineups featuring Chris Kaman or Leonard; they could look to run more in spots (only 4 fast break points in Game 1 if you don’t count Allen Crabbe’s garbage time dunk); they could go with a smaller lineup which has often served them well in comeback attempts. What are some point-forward maneuvers you’d like to see Portland make?
Make use of team depth
Portland has done a great job of developing their bench players all year long. While it is hard to work everyone into a playoff rotation, getting in guys like Joel Freeland and Alonzo Gee for spurts could be a boon in a physical, knock-down, drag-out matchup like this one, especially given their defensive abilities. D-League MVP Tim Frazier might even be worth a mid-game flier in the right situation, just to shake things up with his speed.
The Blazers did have a number of good shots early in Game 1; they just missed them. Beno Udrih went off because he was alternately overplayed or lost in transition. Drives to the basket ended in forced, contested shots when better presence and court vision was required. Unnecessary touch fouls turned into three-point plays. The offense broke down and looked choppy when Memphis applied early ball pressure or fronted Aldridge. Portland hit only 4 of 18 three point attempts through three quarters; Lillard and McCollum were an uncharacteristic 0-for-8 from range for the game. All of this suggests rushing, pressing, suffering mental lapses, and generally being out of sorts. If Portland can regain it’s composure after Game 1’s gut punch and simply play the way they know how, the rest of the series should be much different.
While all of these proposed adjustments could be useful, which do you think is most urgent, and why? What are your ideas to make these adjustments happen?